The decision to have a pet ‘put to sleep’, to choose euthanasia to end their life, is one of the hardest decisions a pet carer may ever have to make.
Even when an animal is suffering and has no hope of recovery, the decision is rarely as clear cut as you might expect. Will tomorrow be a better day? Is it too soon? Have I left it too late? Will they think I’ve given up on them? Will I be able to be strong for them?
These thoughts are all common.
If you’re faced with this heart-breaking decision, we have a number of pages dedicated to information about euthanasia on The Ralph Site. We’d recommend these if you’re worried about what to expect, whether or not you should be present or the aftercare of your pet.
In this blog, however, we wanted to take a look at life after euthanasia for bereaved pet carers. It might be helpful to know that, whatever your thoughts and feelings, you’re not alone.
Common feelings after euthanasia
Some people experience a strong sense of peace, of having chosen a final kindness for their pet after euthanasia. We often talk about putting an animal ‘out of their misery’ and this can be the case when a pet has been very unwell or badly hurt.
But, for others, euthanasia can raise a whole host of difficult thoughts and feelings that are extremely traumatic for the bereaved pet carer. This is something that comes up a lot in The Ralph Site Facebook group.
Common feelings after euthanasia include:
- Guilt (“I shouldn’t have given up”, “I should have noticed something was wrong sooner”, “I should have asked for a second opinion”)
- Worry that it was too soon or too late
- Repetitive thoughts about the pet being stressed and scared at the end
- Fear that the pet wanted to live and their trust in us was betrayed
- Worry that there might have been a different, unexplored avenue of treatment that was overlooked
So often, people worry that if they’d have done something different, their pet might still be alive. In the pain and fog of grief, it can be hard to reflect objectively on the reasons for choosing euthanasia.
Also, if your pet became ill or injured unexpectedly, you may feel that you didn’t have time to think about what to do. If you followed your vet’s advice, you may question whether it was the right course of action.
Many people in The Ralph Site Facebook group also talk about replaying their pet’s final moments in their mind over and over again. This can be relentless at first or even for some time afterwards. They can worry that they’ll never be able to remember the good times again.
Every person is different but many of us experience emotional or behavioural responses to having a pet put to sleep.
Other feelings you may find yourself experiencing include:
Many people talk about feeling like they’re ‘going crazy’ or that they’ll never be the same again. It’s usual too to focus on all the lost moments you will never share with your pet.
You may have a disconnected feeling where you emerge from the moments after your pet has died to find that the world is carrying on with no understanding of what you’ve just lost. This can be even more pronounced with euthanasia.
Grief can affect how we behave. Some people find they can’t move their pet’s possessions – water in a bowl is left to evaporate, blankets in a bed stay tangled from the last sleep, toys are scattered around the house – while other people pack everything away immediately, feeling that they can’t bear the constant reminders of their loved one.
Some people struggle to sleep in the bed without their pet snuggled by their side, while others just want to sleep every day away.
You may feel a compulsion to talk about your pet, to memorialise them or to recount the details of their death as much as possible. Equally, you may find yourself withdrawing from people because you don’t feel anyone can understand your loss.
People may reassure you that euthanasia was the last gift and kindness you had to give your pet but you may feel like it was less of a gift and more of a poison chalice.
My point in discussing these thoughts and feelings is to reassure you that there is no such thing as a ‘right’ response to euthanasia or bereavement. Every feeling I’ve mentioned here has been experienced many times over. You are not alone.
The most important thing to remember is that, whatever led you to the decision that euthanasia was the best option for your pet, you were trying to do the right thing for them. Vets do not recommend euthanasia lightly and will always advocate for an animal if they think there is an alternative. You knew your pet best and did not want them to suffer. Letting them go is a selfless act when forever wouldn’t be long enough together.
Many people wish that their pet could give them forgiveness or send them a sign that they understand why euthanasia was necessary. In the potential absence of this, the forgiveness has to come from within and that can take time.
If you are struggling with life after euthanasia, please do reach out for support. There are some wonderful pet bereavement counsellors out there and many, many people within The Ralph Site community who understand your feelings.
Above all, be kind to yourself and know that you are not alone.
Shailen and The Ralph Site team
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support